Winter 2011

Page 7

Developing the Lake Erie Bike Route By Kathleen Wilker Marlaine Koehler has big plans. 1,400 kilometres of plans, in fact, for cycle tourism in Ontario. As the executive director of the Waterfront Regeneration Trust, Koehler has been instrumental in developing the Great Waterfront Trail Adventure, an annual eight-day, 720-kilometre bike tour along the shores of Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River.

Koehler is keen to welcome American cycle tourists to Ontario. The Adventure Cycling Association, America’s key cycle touring organization, estimates that American cycle tourists spend $47 billion annually. “We’ve had repeat visitors on the GWTA from the States and from Quebec who have been asking for new routes,” says Koehler.

Now in its fifth year, the GWTA successfully brings local cyclists as well as riders from Quebec and the United States through 41 communities in Ontario – and the tourism promotes trail building, sign posting and cycle-friendly communities.

“The Lake Erie route is a wonderful introduction to cycle touring,” says Koehler, noting the flat routes, mild climate and unique Carolinian forests. Highlights of the route include provincial parks like Rondeau near Chatham and Long Point near Port Rowan, where birders can enjoy spring and fall migrations.

“Cycle tourism is great for local economies,” says Koehler. “Cyclists travel slower than visitors with cars; we shop more and we eat more.” Not only do cycling travellers enjoy local food and independent wineries, they are also ideal visitors because they enjoy riding in off-peak seasons. “Early spring and later fall are great times to ride because the weather is cooler,” explains Koehler.



ParkBus, a new express bus service from downtown Toronto to Algonquin Park, has just completed its first season. Over

nine weekends, a total of 321 people rode ParkBus and enjoyed car-free camping in one of Ontario’s most spectacular outdoor destinations. A project of Transportation Options, ParkBus was developed with partners at Ontario Parks, Mountain Equipment Co-op, the Ontario Ministry of Tourism and a number of private outfitters and tour operators in and around Algonquin Park. The goal was to introduce Algonquin Park to new Canadians, international visitors and residents of downtown Toronto who might not have access to a private vehicle or much experience camping. Almost 44 percent of ParkBus passengers had not been camping in Algonquin Park before, indicating that the program met its goal of bringing in new campers to the park without increasing the environmental impact of more visitors in private vehicles. With the price of round-trip bus fare from Toronto set at just $72 plus HST, travel was affordable. “The program ran off the cost of bus fare,” says Justin Lafontaine, programs director at Transportation Options. “We wanted to present a business model that would work for the bus company.” Lafontaine, who spearheaded the enormously successful BikeTrain project designed to enable passengers to easily bring their bikes on select VIA Rail trains, is experienced in creating “valueadded programming” to encourage people to choose transportation alternatives to the private vehicle. “We had ambassadors aboard each bus who were able to answer questions on anything from hanging food to setting up tents,” says Lafontaine, who also noted that through ParkBus ambassadors, passengers could learn about and be connected to any other activities that interested them in the park, like kayaking.

For new campers, online lessons in camping skills, including packing checklists, were provided by Ontario Parks. And MEC offered half-price deals on camping equipment rental for ParkBus passengers. Once in Algonquin Park, ParkBus stopped at five different locations to suit every type of camper: private lodges, car camping sites, hike-in sites and canoe-in sites were all possible stops. “Ontario Parks are eager to accommodate visitors who aren’t arriving by car,” says Lafontaine. “Delivering firewood to campsites and providing bear-proof food barrels are two things that Ontario Parks staff are doing to make camping easier for visitors without motorized vehicles.”

Building on the success of the GWTA, Koehler is developing a bike route along the north shore of Lake Erie from Windsor to Fort Erie. To plan the 600-kilometre route, Koehler invited municipal leaders, transportation planners, cycling advocates and tourism operators from Ontario, Quebec and the States to join her for a 600-kilometre ride to experience bike travel collectively. The group rode together and met for lunch and a daily debriefing session as they planned the route. “We’re developing a route using existing infrastructure and creating signage and maps,” says Koehler, who is working with municipalities all along the route. The new Lake Erie route will begin at the international bridge connecting Detroit to Windsor.

By 2013, the Lake Erie bike route will be signed, maps will be printed and a website dedicated to the route and to promoting regional connections and highlights will be up and running. With a link from St. Catharines to Niagara-on-the-Lake – where the Great Waterfront Trail begins – provided by the existing Niagara Great Circle Route, Ontario will soon have a 1,400-kilometre bike route ready for cycle tourists. In the meantime, the region already has lots to offer early adopters: “Windsor and Essex county has a well-signed route on the Chrysler Trail that takes you right past wineries for bathroom and refreshment breaks.” And for cycle travellers who enjoy having their meals taken care of, their luggage transported and their campsites pre-arranged, the 5th Annual Great Waterfront Trail Adventure from Niagara-on-the-Lake to the Quebec border is celebrating 2012 in a big way because it is the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812.

Parcs Québec

Opt for Parc National d’Oka

Halfway through the 2011 ParkBus season, passengers were invited to bring their bikes on board on a first-come, first-served basis. And two to four bikes were regularly accommodated on the bus, allowing passengers greater self-propelled mobility when they reached their Algonquin Park destination. The summer of 2012 will see ParkBus adding one or two new routes to different parks. 2011’s season ended with a pilot trip to Killarney National Park, a destination 73 percent of the ParkBus campers had never been to before. From passenger surveys, Lafontaine can see that the Bruce Peninsula and Tobermory are popular future destinations: “It’s an especially beautiful region in Ontario that is currently under-serviced by public transportation,” says Lafontaine, who also notes that there is significant interest in operating ParkBus service out of other large cities like Ottawa.

For more: • • online_resources.html

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Snow walking Snowshoeing Cross-country skiing and a 4-kilometres lit trail Rustic camping : sleep in your tent Turnkey accomodation package : camping made easy Gîte sous les pins : a rustic inn

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